From the time I started managing my first Myspace page , I have often theorized upon the idea that networking platforms that ask you to develop a profile are going to create an evolution of change in the way people identify themselves. Considering we live in a gossip-based society, social networking sites seem to alleviate a step in the telephone game- we can see how people feel through status updates, we can find their interests, their photos, groups, wall posts, who they follow on twitter so on and so forth.
But its not just about talking about what you do find, or what you put out there to be found. Its about the anonymous stalker. We all have to admit to it. We joke about “facebook stalking” one another- wasting time looking through someone else’s profile pictures or things like that to get an idea of who they are. But truly, the character type adopted of the anonymous stalker seems to be outrageously addictive for the online community.
And since being online seems to be so very important, new platforms like formspring.me and even collegeacb.com are giving social networking mongers everywhere the ability to snoop, stalk AND gossip all online and all anonymously. Check out Gawker’s hilarious take on formspring.me here.
What does that mean for our critical media and cultural studies minds? It means that now, more than ever, we are taking joy in the ease of hurting others; because, it is easier now than it ever has been before. Furthermore, its about our self-interest as Gawker observes. I find it particularly alarming that a social reliance on these major networking sites is emotionally changing one’s need to put themselves online as an open, vulnerable target to…well, all kinds of shit.
Of course the question always is: Who cares about what other people have to say? That is just proof of the serious shift that has taken place. Who cares about what people write on my facebook? Who cares about what their Twitter said? Who cares what they posted about me on collegeacb? Who cares about some asshole writing on formspring? The very fundamental fact that these questions have been modified to accomodate online social trends should send out a huge red alert. Because the truth comes down to a very basic Marxist cultural crisis.
In the consumer culture, someone thinks and produces while others eat it all up. That’s a Marxist approach in a very understated nutshell. Other culture critical theorists like to discuss that the consumers never really ask for cultural trends, they just receive them. However, the criticism is that the people producing this shit believe that it is what the people want. So. Considering the rise in popularity of social networking, somebody decided that the people would want sites where they can put themselves or others on center stage and really really put who they are or what people think of them on show. Hence the birth of formspring.me. By this deduction, it proves that people are changing to want to put themselves on the line.
People want to care about what other people say. People just like having the excuse of “well its just some stupid site” to not get emotionally involved. But, the physiological and even holistic truth is that every ounce of input we receive each day sits inside us somewhere, somehow. And even if we have trained ourselves to block off the negative, it logically cannot be argued that we hear about it, or we see it, or we keep somewhere on our consciousness that it exists, and that someone could be using it against us. Its just the way it is. You don’t have to use these site or think about them all the time, but learning, just once, of what they are and what they can do- god forbid you should use them an update them- is quite enough to affect the identity of the self.
I suppose this all comes down to a basic postmodern argument: if technology is bringing us together or ripping us apart.
I have to wonder what it is in people that makes them so afraid to simply talk to other people. Couldn’t you walk up to someone and ask what you had to ask, say what you had to say without being an online creeper? Or have we learned as human beings to be so insecure about ourselves that online interaction will become the only way? And at any direction, is visual, popular and technological culture to blame for making our interest in shit that really doesn’t matter so readily available?
There’s a big world out there. The beauty of the internet and social networking is supposed to be bringing some of that world a little closer. I fear that its doing a little too much of putting our immediate world- the society and culture right outside our windows- into a tiny little screen.
Think of it like this: How often have you sat outside, or even in a room full of people while you are checking facebook? Or, think of it like this. For every minute you spend on a social networking site that is inflating your sense of identity…what else could you be doing with your time?